Mu­sic man sus­tains dy­ing tra­di­tion

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - KHIN SU WAI jas­

AU­DI­ENCES who take plea­sure in the range of tones that can be pro­duced from tra­di­tional Myan­mar mu­si­cal in­stru­ments love the sounds of the Myan­mar or­ches­tra. But the num­ber of ar­ti­sans ca­pa­ble of forg­ing the bronze gongs that ut­ter those sounds is dwin­dling.

Man­dalay’s Tam­pawaddy quar­ter is fa­mous for bronze and cop­per works. It was at Tam­pawaddy that crafts­men forged the great Maha Vi­jaya Khayma Si­tala Nibbuta Gawsa bell, a masterwork in bronze des­tined for Dawei’s Shwe Taung Sar Pagoda. The K300 mil­lion bell, paid for by pri­vate donors, mea­sures 5.2 me­tres (17 feet) in height in­clud­ing its hook, 2.3m (7 feet 6 inches) wide at the rim, and 28 cen­time­tres (11 inches) thick.

Tam­pawaddy also pro­duces bronze im­ages of the Bud­dha and re­li­gious ac­ces­sories. And it ac­com­mo­dates the stu­dioof U Aung Moe, who makes the in­stru­ments known as kyay wai and maung sai for or­ches­tras like Myan­mar hsaing waing. The artistry that goes into the forg­ing of these in­stru­ments matches the skills re­quired to play them.

He also works on the great bells, in­clud­ing one to be hung in Myaung Mya’s Mya Sein Yaung Taung Pagoda, that will weigh more than 20,000 viss (1 viss is equal to 1.6 kilo­grams or 3.6 pounds).

U Aung Moe, the mas­ter of the bells, has been learn­ing his trade at the hands of his teach­ers since he was 12 years old.

“Both in­stru­ments can pro­duce notes with the use of 12 pi­ano­like keys. But the kyay can also be played with move­ments of the tongue, and the maung by the move­ment of air through the nose,” he said.

The 18 or 19 gongs of the two in­stru­ments range in size from 4 to 13 inches in di­am­e­ter, each size pro­duc­ing a dif­fer­ent key. The 13-inch gong pro­duces a C,the 12-inch a D and so on. The 9-inch can pro­duce ei­ther a G or an A, de­pend­ing on which key is used. Cym­bals (lin-gwin) are also used.

“The se­cret lies in the thick­ness,” he said. The kyay has a skin of vary­ing thick­ness, with two ar­eas be­ing par­tic­u­larly thick and two thin, pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent tones. The maung has three thick and three thin spots. These are pro­duced by ham­mer­ing on the anvil un­til the ham­mer strikes the right tone.

An­other vari­able is the ex­act mix of cop­per and tin.

“Tin costs K17 mil­lion a tonne,” he said. The gov­ern­ment had set the price of his raw ma­te­rial at K20,000 a viss if cop­per was priced at K10,000 a viss and tin at K35,000. “If we use 25 viss of cop­per, we need 7.40 viss of tin for the best qual­ity,” he said.

“But though the price of my work is higher than oth­ers’ by about K5000 a viss, I have or­ders from customers ev­ery­where.”

He won­ders how long this state of af­fairs will last, how­ever. “I have four work­ers who can pro­duce the 18 bronze gongs, earn­ing K18,000 a day. When I was young, the rate was K21, and I had to spend so much time study­ing that I had no time for fam­ily life. But young peo­ple these days don’t want to learn the old ways, and they want to earn more.”

Look­ing around at the work­shop and the bronze arte­facts he had forged, he said, “Who will make in­stru­ments like these in the fu­ture?”

Pho­tos: Khin Su Wai

U Aung Moe has been craft­ing bells since he was 12 years old.

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